December 9, 2019 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Tag(s): Stoicism ||

Stoicism: My One-Minute Elevator Pitch

Chuck Chakrapani

I have been practicing some form of Stoicism practically all my life. But I don’t talk about it. I generally avoid talking to others about my beliefs mainly because I need to explain them to those who don’t know what they are, ‘defend’ them when they are misunderstood and, most of all, I have to defend myself if I happen to change my mind about them.

But with Stoicism, I can do this no longer. Now that I edit a Stoic magazine, write books on Stoicism, and give talks on the subject, it is impossible to avoid someone or the other asking me “What is Stoicism?” I don’t like being long-winded and I don’t like being obscure. That means I need to explain the essence of Stoicism in a minute or two to a layperson in a way they can quickly understand. After much trial and error, here is my one-minute summary — my ‘elevator pitch if you will — of what Stoicism is.

Stoicism: My ‘elevator pitch’

Let me start with an example. It is Friday and you have been looking forward to going to your favorite restaurant. But in the afternoon, you get the word that you lost your job. When something like this happens, most people will be worrying about the job that is lost (something that they can do nothing about) but will find it hard to enjoy the dinner (something under their control). We fret about things we can do nothing about and fail to act on what is under our control. Most of our unhappiness comes from the fact that we try to control what is not under our control and fail to act on what is under our control.

Be clear about what you can and cannot control

Stoicism says that the first thing we need to be clear about is that some things in our lives are under our control, and others are not. Things under our control are what we believe, what we desire or hate, and what we move toward or avoid. Almost all other things are not in our control. We can avoid a lot of trouble and achieve happiness by ignoring what we have no control over and acting on what we do have control over.

The reason why we act this way and make ourselves unhappy is that we often act irrationally; we don’t live a “life according to Nature”. Nature means our nature (which is rationality) and according to the nature of the world (which is the way things are). So, we must act rationally and not struggle against reality.

We need four special skills

We can achieve this, by using four special skills:

  1. Wisdom (resourcefulness and discretion)
  2. Justice (understanding our being part of society)
  3. Courage (not be afraid of things we don’t control such as sickness and poverty)
  4. Moderation (avoiding excess)

A person who lives rationally would be wise, just, courageous, and moderate. The Stoics called these four special skills virtues. Using these four skills is fundamental to Stoicism.

We can achieve total happiness by acting on what is under our control. But what about all those other things that are not under our control? A wonderful house, a shiny new car, or super health? They may be good to have but whatever is not under our total control is not necessary for our happiness. You can be happy with or without them. It is natural to prefer wealth to poverty, health to sickness. But should we lose them, we can still be happy.

Life is a festival

Stoics are not ascetics. They say that we are free to enjoy ‘desirable’ things such as health and wealth as long as we remember that they are not under our control and we do not use them to harm ourselves or others. Think of all the great things you have as things on loan to you that can be called back at any time. As long as they are not called back, you are free to enjoy them any way you like.

Life is a festival. We should enjoy whatever life offers us but shouldn’t chase after things.

That’s my one-minute ‘elevator pitch’ on Stoicism. What’s yours?